English in the Philippines

manilacathedralThe Vatican announced this week that Pope Francis will address the faithful gathered in the Philippines in English and not Latin as had been previously suggested. Rappler, a news site based in Manila reported over the weekend that Archbishop Socrates Villegas, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), said the Pope will use English in the papal Masses at the Daniel Z Romualdez Airport in Tacloban City on January 17, and at the Rizal Park in Manila on January 18.


“The Pope wants to reach as many and be understood by many more,” Villegas told Rappler. “English is not the Pope’s mother tongue, but he is trying very hard to speak our language.”

The report continues:

The Pope, however, will say his Mass in the Manila Cathedral in Latin “because priests are supposed to understand Latin,” the CBCP president said. 

His Mass in the Manila Cathedral on January 16 is reserved primarily for 2,000 bishops, priests, and consecrated persons.

Read Rappler’s full story here: “Vatican decides Pope’s Masses in PH will be in English


  1. There is ample precedent for this. The last Papal visit in 1995, for the World Youth Day in Manila, made use of English in the liturgy for the big public rites, incorporating some Latin (especially in the Gloria, where the first line in Latin was used as a refrain for the final Mass). I do not recall whether Latin was used in certain “smaller” liturgies.

    I understand there is a new setting of the Mass in English that the Jesuit composers here have produced for the occasion.

    1. @Ren Aguila – comment #1:
      The president of the bishops conference, Abp. Soc Villegas, commissioned Jesuit composer Fr. Manuel V. Francisco to write a Mass setting, “Mercy and Compassion.” The Gloria’s refrain is in English, Latin, Cebuano and Tagalog. The first verse is in Ilocano, the language of the North. The second verse is in Tagalog, the language of the capital region. The third verse is in Cebuano, the lingua franca of the South. The scores and MP3s are available. A simple Google search will point to them.

  2. Why not Spanish since that’s the Pope’s native language and the Filipino community at my parish had informed me that in the Philippines everyone has to complete Spanish proficiency in order to continue on to each level of higher education including high school, college and graduate school. Plus I’ve heard the Pope’s English is not very good.

      1. @Vic Romero – comment #5:
        Yep. It’s no longer a requirement for leaving the school system, although I took the language as an option in university. I can read and understand the language, but I find it a challenge to speak as it is rarely used.

        However, it must be said that there still are Spanish Masses on occasion, and only in one church in the old city, that of San Agustin Church, which is a hop, skip, and jump from the Cathedral. I do hope the Pope visits the church and its museum.

    1. @George Lynch – comment #4:
      I suspect that the English of the new Missal is closer to the Spanish, though I have yet to verify that fact. 😉

      For that matter, the structure of the Gloria in Tagalog is more faithful to the Latin, and that was completed decades before Liturgiam Authenticam.

    1. @Brian Culley, CMF – comment #7:
      Yes, Fr. Brian. Dom Anscar Chupungco, OSB, must be smiling from heaven. On top of his contributions to the development of Filipino liturgy, his strategic legacy was establishing two liturgical institutes. He managed to get the bishops conference to set up the Paul VI Institute of Liturgy in Malaybalay, Bukidnon on Mindanao, which trains laypersons, nuns and clergy on the liturgy. Also, his abbey in Manila set up a graduate school of liturgy, which continues to train laypersons, nuns and clergy and grants graduate degrees in liturgy. At these institutes students make an informal pledge (among themselves) to be faithful to the teachings of Vatican II. Dom Anscar must be smiling.

      1. @Vic Romero – comment #16:
        And the library of the abbey’s college, last I checked, had copies of the ICEL 1998 draft. That’s where I first spotted them before they went up online.

  3. Understanding Latin is very different than reading Latin aloud. I imagine in the small villages of the Philippines, priests are keeping up with their understanding of Latin in between the poverty and the other languages of the Islands and the typhoons.

    If Pope Francis will use Latin in the Cathedral Mass then fine, but please preach in a language more people will “understand.” That’s his strength. It has been the power of his preaching that has been “understood.”

    I expect the Pope to be met with an outstanding joy. I also expect he will be understood very well.

  4. Most priests, BTW, don’t understand Latin, nor should they. The primary language of the Varican is Italian, not Latin. One day, I predict, the official language will be English because it is far better known throughout the world than Italian. Isn’t it time to let go of Latin outside of academia? For the record I had five years of Latin and am grateful for how it vastly improved my English vocabulary.

  5. Outside of the major urban areas, and even in the poorer areas of Manila, I think you will find that Tagalog, along with Cebuano, Visayan and Ilocano are better understood than English; in Manila’s Tondo district, home to what was known as Smokey Mountain, the SVD’s who minster there use Tagalog when they celebrate the Eucharist, making me a mute spectator when I joined them for Mass on a visit there some years ago. Among the Filipinos I encounter in my work here in Japan, I’d say “Taglish” is the lingua franca.

  6. I hope that Papa Francisco will consider Don Anscar, archbishop Romero, and his own Pedro Arrupe for canonization;)

  7. #15 by Brendan Kelleher SVD on January 5, 2015 – 8:40 pm said: “the SVD’s who minster there use Tagalog when they celebrate the Eucharist, making me a mute spectator when I joined them for Mass on a visit there some years ago. ”

    Father Brendan, No offense intended but just because you didn’t have the ability to understand or speak the language that the Mass in Manila was said in, you were simply a mute spectator? I find myself sick of hearing this old chestnut, often used to justify not having Mass in Latin. We know the Mass texts in our own language right? So if we’re at Mass and it’s celebrated in a language that we don’t know or understand such as Tagalog, we become a mute spectator? I don’t think so.

  8. John Kohanski: I am equally sick and tired of hearing arguements like yours which uses discussions like this to bring up the topic of the use of Latin in the liturgy. To participate in the Mass in accord with SC, and subsequent documents on liturgical renewal, one must be able to make the minimum responses, not just guess that we are now at the Rite of Reconciliation or the Preparation of Gifts. As a priest I can do that. I can, if I have a printed text in front of me follow Mass or hymns, in Tagalog, Vietnamese and Bahasa Indonesian, as I have done on occasion. With no written text in front of me I was on that occasion, if not literally, metaphorically, ‘a mute spectator.’ My point was that outside of the urban areas English and Spanish are not the lingua franca of the ordinary people.
    Let me add that when you visit somewhere like the Tondo/Smokey Mountain you will encounter a people who not only don’t understand English and Spanish, but also, particularly among the older generation, can’t read or write in any language. Apart from the Mass pamphlet the SVD priest who celebrated the Mass used, there were no other printed materials available. Theirs is an aural/oral culture so they have a remarkable facility at remembering frequently used prayer texts and hymns in Tagalog.
    Given that Tagalog is the most widely understood language, that some of the hymns were in that language would seem appropriate at the liturgies the Pope presided over. However, down in Cebu, where Cebuano is more commonly used, then hymns in Cebuano would seem a better option. Written literature in Cebuano is the oldest in the the Philipines so the people of that island are justly proud of their native language.
    One further point that I’ve noted over the years, Filipinos, and even more so Indonesians, seem to be able to sing harmonies, almost instinctively, when they sing hymns written in their own languages.

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